MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Tennessee Wesleyan was playing for first place in the Appalachian Athletic Conference basketball standings, and coach Mike Poe liked what he saw from his team.
The Bulldogs took control of the league standings Saturday with a 100-87 victory over Milligan College at Lacy Fieldhouse. It gave Tennessee Wesleyan a two-game lead with two to go. The regular-season champion gets to host the conference tournament.
“My guys knew the importance of the game,” Poe said. “A road win this late in the year is big.”
Tennessee Wesleyan improved to 18-9 overall, 12-2 in the AAC. Combined with second-place Reinhardt’s loss to Montreat on Saturday, the result left the Bulldogs needing to win one of their last two games to clinch the top seed and the homecourt advantage in the tournament.
“We’re still not out of the woods by any means, but our guys are focused,” said Poe, a former Science Hill High school head coach.
The Tennessee Wesleyan women, ranked 18th in the latest NAIA Division II poll, hung on to beat Milligan 78-71 after the Lady Buffs made a spirited comeback.
The men’s game wasn’t nearly as competitive. Shooting 69 percent in the first half, the Bulldogs put this one away early. They had a pair of 10-0 runs in the first half and turned one of those into a 16-2 spurt. By halftime, Tennessee Wesleyan already had three players in double figures and held a 61-35 lead.
“For us it starts on the defensive end,” Poe said. “We get some stops and we’re able to get out and run. When you get some stops and get some layups, your shooting percentage is gonna be pretty good. My teams have always had a tendency to, when things start humming, they seem to feed off each other.”
Things were humming pretty well for the Bulldogs most of the day. They stretched their lead to 71-40 before Milligan (9-16, 5-10) started to play. Led by point guard Kyle Grisby, the Buffaloes clawed back with a pair of 11-0 runs in the second half. The closest Milligan could get was within 12 points in the final minute but it left coach Bill Robinson feeling better about the outcome.
“You have to leave at least feeling positive that we competed,” Robinson said. “That was the one thing we talked about at halftime. Forget about the score. Forget about the final. Just go compete. For 20 minutes just go fight. They did that.
“We’ve got some things to fix in a short period of time, but overall I can’t be upset about the effort.”
Grisby finished with 23 points. Marshall Hardy added 13 points and 10 rebounds while Tyler DeVault and Torian Sitton each had 12 points for Milligan. Mickey Woods chipped in 10.
Matt Harper and Desmond Crisp each scored 24 points to lead Tennessee Wesleyan. Quincy Scates had 21 and lightning quick point guard E’Jay Ward had 12.
Tennessee Wesleyan wound up shooting 59 percent from the field. Milligan shot 40 percent.
“They’re really, really good and they’re playing really, really well,” Robinson said. “They have weapons at every position. It’s tough to beat that but we gave them a lot of easy shots, too.”
In the women’s game, Milligan came back from a 17-point halftime deficit to make a game of it in the closing seconds. Tennessee Wesleyan’s lead was cut to three at 70-67 with 1:24 left when Jaimee Hill made the second of back-to-back baskets. Wesleyan’s Leah Frazier then drained a 3-pointer from the corner and after a Milligan turnover, sank two free throws.
That sealed the deal for the Bulldogs, who improved to 20-7 overall, 13-3 in the AAC.
Frazier finished with 19 points while Michelle Davis added 14.
Kayla Kelly led Milligan (15-13, 7-9) with 22 points, five assists and six rebounds. Johneshia Good had 17, including five 3-pointers, and Alisha Mainer added 14. The Lady Buffs’ fullcourt press forced 19 turnovers.
At halftime of the men’s game, Kendal Mull, a member of the Cloudland High School girls’ basketball team, made a layup, a free throw, a 3-pointer and a halfcourt shot and won Chik-fil-A for a year. There was no controversy even though her halfcourt shot came from several feet in front of the line.
The Milligan men and women have a week off to prepare for their final regular-season games, Saturday at home against Point.